Rejoice! I shall say it again: rejoice!

the other mary 1024x1024 Rejoice! I shall say it again: rejoice!

{Gratutious Joyful Child Photo}

Bonnie Engstrom, whom I had the pleasure of working with and meeting last year at the Behold Conference, invited me to participate in an Advent series over at her blog, A Knotted Life. It’s one of the few writing “assignments” I said yes to, and I’m glad I did. She gave me Gaudete Sunday, which seemed providential since all Advent long I’ve been receiving messages on how to lead a more joyful life – even in the wake of suffering, hardship, horrific tragedies like what happened in Connecticut, and Poopcassos*. I’ve included a morsel of my post below, but I hope you’ll consider reading the whole thing over at Bonnie’s space.

*A Poopcasso is a baby who, during his naptime, breaks and enters into his poopy diaper and delights in using stinky finger paint all over the walls and crib.

Happiness is all fine and good, but it passes with more frequency than my baby’s bowel movements. And that’s saying a lot considering my little man pooped three times just yesterday. In other words, happiness, which becomes happenstance when translated in Latin, is fleeting and at the whim of life’s circumstances. I feel happy when my husband and I sneak away for a date night – or just share a glass of vino at home before passing out from exhaustion. I’m not so happy when I step on a rogue Lego in bare feet or when all four of my children become nocturnal and offer me anything but a silent night.

Joy, on the other hand, comes from within; it resonates in your soul. You carry it with you even as you stumble through the day like a total “mombie.” Joy remains your companion even as you carry heavy crosses like a cancer diagnosis, the death of a child, or chronic, debilitating pain. I know people who are dealing with these kinds of struggles; yet, they’re still able to laugh, to savor the smallest of blessings in life, and to give thanks for their faith and their life as it is with ickiness, disease, and all. They look beyond the hand life has dealt them – a lousy hand right about now (good luck makes us happy; God makes us joyful even in the face of bad luck), and they choose joy. They choose Him.

That’s what the third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete Sunday is all about. (Gaudete is Latin for rejoice.) It’s about choosing Him, choosing joy, and rejoicing even when life has you down. It’s about seeing the babe in the manger as more than a sweet symbol but as a gift – the only gift that matters, a vessel of hope. Yes, what’s to come is bigger and better than our limited human intellect could ever imagine. It’s what St. Paul encourages us to do: To consider it all – even the heartache, the burnt cookies, and the nuclear diapers – as joy.

Joy Personified

The images below are new, but some of the words are from an old Easter post from two years ago. That’s the thing about Truth. It’s always timely. Children grow and change. Babies become toddlers. Toddlers turn into preschoolers.

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 Your first and second baby girls grow tall and lean, and you see beautiful glimpses of the lovely ladies they’re turning into. These are sweet girls who point out where Easter eggs are hidden to each other and make your younger brother laugh, “I was never that nice during our Easter egg hunts.”

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Scrawny babies with chicken legs that are welcomed into the world after weeks of anxious bed rest turn into happy pudge balls. And my-oh-my how that baby face reminds you of your husband. Those eyes belong to him.

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But Truth and God – these remain constant.

This was an emotional Easter. I hadn’t broken down in a long time and in the safety and security of my family, I cracked and a wellspring of  tears flowed freely. I felt silly at first. Guilty, too. Then I felt better.

Easter is always bittersweet for me if I’m honest. Reading my old post revealed I’d broken down on Holy Saturday and cried to my mama. She comforted me saying, “All will be fine.” Just like St. Julian of Norwich. “All will be well.” And it was. And it will be.

It’s just the luck of the draw, but my husband frequently has to work over Easter weekend, and I miss him. But I’m also missing something on a deeper level. People join the Church this time of year. I know of several wives whose husbands were welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass. I am overwhelmed with joy for them, but I’m selfishly sad, too. My own faith journey is solitary. Everyone’s journey is solitary, but I don’t have a spouse walking anywhere close to me, and I thought I would when I got married nearly a decade ago. My heart aches because of this. Yet, I remind myself that nothing is impossible with God. This marriage of mine is a great blessing; it is a part of His plan to teach a stubborn control freak child of His (um, me) to trust. So trust I will.

I was tired when I arrived home last night. Two out of the four kids fell asleep on the way home from my parents’. I was able to transport them to beds without waking them. My big girl helped me unload the van. I nursed a very tired baby boy to sleep.

I tidied up around the house, wishing to make it feel homey and uncluttered for when that husband  of mine (whom I really was missing) returned home from work late that night.

Then I decided to peruse the photos I’d snapped throughout the day. I hadn’t pulled out my real camera in a long time since I can capture quick shots with my phone, but this weekend I wanted to get some better closeups of the kids.  I don’t have a superb eye for photography, but I was fairly happy with the results of my weekend clicking.

As I looked through the photos, the theme that came to mind was joy. Pure joy. Joy personified in my children’s smiles and happiness. That joy replaced any feelings of guilt or bittersweetness and made me grateful.

Childhood, especially when there’s chocolate buried in baskets and Easter egg hunts, is a sermon on what it means to find joy. Big, silly dogs who are always licking your baby because they think he’s their puppy help to make you joyful, too.

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No, my Lent wasn’t all that great. But with Easter Sunday, we get our own Groundhog Day, a glorious do-over, a fresh start, a chance to be made anew and to walk more closely with Jesus. And isn’t our God generous? We get 40 days of preparation and penance, but we get 50 days of feasting.

The Easter season is not an ordinary time, so be extraordinary.

As I mentioned during my morning radio interview this morning with Relevant Radio, let your kids jump in those spring mud puddles. What’s a little extra dirt? Pick flowers. Read books together in your backyard. Have a picnic. Throw a blanket on the floor if it’s raining. Enjoy your children instead if just managing them.

And remember this (these are the words from an older post):

We are an Easter people.

Hope abounds. It is not a hope based on a superficial optimism that is blind to the reality of suffering in the world. Rather, it is a deep trust in God and His love for us. This is not a season for despair or worry. Easter calls us to embrace the freedom from fear, and to hold onto the life, the peace, and the joy that Jesus died to give all of us.

We are an Easter people. With the hope of Easter so close to me, it’s easy to believe. But then I return to my life. I face my trials. I see the news headlines. And I’m tempted to give in to anger or doubt or even despair.

My heart has its ups and downs. My world is frequently a wobbly one, and it’s a challenge to find my balance. My faith isn’t as steady as I’d like it to be; yet, this Easter season is a good reminder that some things never change. The only one who can rob us from the joy that comes with being a Christian is ourselves. We are sure to lose much in life – jobs, loved ones, financial security, freedoms, good health, confidence in our future happiness and in the path of our life. Then there is God. He remains. He does not shift with the wind or with our woes. He is forever. Love is forever.  No one can take that away from us. I need to bury my doubt and let God and love live.

My kids are triumphant, glad to be able to proclaim, “Alleluia!” again.

That’s what Jesus gave us on that first Easter: A reason to say, “Alleluia!” again, a reason to hope, and joy that is ours for the taking even when life is downright hard.

This is what my children give me, too. A reason to hope. And joy. Lots of it.

Happy Easter!!!

*Stay tuned for an Easter giveaway!


Nothing else matters

Every time I sat today or walked with a bounce in my step, which is how I naturally walk all of the time, I winced in pain. That’s because there’s a big bruise that looks like an angry storm cloud on the left cheek of my bum.

It was the early evening yesterday and as is typical during that time of day, I was tired and eager to get through with the bedtime routine just so I could have some quiet time. I’d just helped my 4-year-old pick out a clean pair of panties to put on after she bathed because she insisted that she needed my help in choosing the right pair of undergarments. We were standing at the top of a long set of hardwood stairs. Thomas’s chunky thighs were wrapped around my waist. He was spouting out happy gibberish and wiggling with joy. He takes happiness to the next level. He actually sometimes laughs and cries at the same time when he’s really tired but is still trying to look on the bright side of things.

My left arm held Thomas close to me. I started to walk down the stairs when Rae asked me something. I don’t remember what. I was about to turn around and look at her when I lost my footing, slipped, and fell hard on the stairs. I watched in horror as Thomas slipped through the canyon of my arm and began to crash down the stairs. He tumbled down two stairs before I lunged forward and grabbed him and pulled his trembling body against my chest. I started sobbing and rocking back and forth, and I began to scream, “My baby! My baby!”

I was too afraid to look at him. I was sure if I looked at him, I’d see blood or a cracked-open head.

Sweet Rae said, “I’ll go get Daddy.”

She didn’t need to. He had heard my screaming and came running to me. He calmly took Thomas from me.

“Is he okay? Is he okay?” I asked. “I fell down the stairs. I dropped him. I can’t believe I dropped him.”

My husband immediately adopted his doctor persona and began carefully examining Thomas. To my surprise, he didn’t look hurt at all. There was no blood. No swelling anywhere. My husband gently prodded his head and asked me where I thought he hit. “He fell on his butt first, I think. Then he rolled over once and hit his head. I think that’s all. I don’t know though. It happened so quickly.”

I was still crying and shaking. Once my husband felt Thomas was okay, he handed him back to me. The little guy was crying as hard as I was and had broken out in a sweat but when he was back in my arms, he rested his fuzzy head against my chest and his sobbing slowed down until he was just making soft, pitiful gasps.

“My baby,” I said again and again.

My husband asked me if I was hurting. I told him my butt hurt. He took a look. “You’re going to have a huge hematoma.”

That’s the kind of language we use around here because of Dr. Dad. My kids don’t get cuts; they get lacerations. They don’t get dry skin on their scalp; they get seborrhoeic dermatitis. But he was right: I have a huge swollen purplish-black lump (AKA a HUGE hematoma) on my bottom. I have a bruised ankle as well.

I nursed him and rocked Thomas for a long time that night. We checked him periodically to make sure he wasn’t lethargic. He woke up several times in the night as is his custom. I was very grateful for his wakefulness last night and didn’t care how groggy I’d feel come morning.

My husband texted me to see how I was feeling today. I told him I was sore, but so grateful that I was the only one bruised. Thomas was his happy self all day. He somehow survived rolling down two hard stairs with not so much as a scratch.

Last night when I’d finally stopped shaking, I said to my husband, “In an instant with one misstep, I could have ruined my life.”

One of my closest friends is a pediatric emergency medicine doctor, and I’ve heard the stories of fractured skulls, sobbing parents whose lives would forever be changed because of some freak accident.

I honestly thought my baby boy was going to be severely injured. My sobs and hysterics surprised me. The sick feeling in my gut. It was awful.

That night I promised that I’d never take my kids for granted. I would never make things or worldly pursuits more important than my children. I wouldn’t sweat the small stuff like being late to soccer practice. I’d focus only on my relationship with my kids, husband, family, friends, and God. Of course, the morning started out all wrong. I didn’t pray first thing. One of my children was acting like a complete negatron, and I was too abrasive with her. Then another child elbowed me right on my sore bum, which hurts even when my clothes shifts on it. Yet, when I felt that sharp twinge of pain, I relived the moment, the terror, but I also once again experienced the gratitude that my baby was going to be fine, that my life as exhausting as it can be sometimes was unchanged.

I apologized to my children, and I began to weep. The tears started flowing instantly, and they wouldn’t stop. “Do you know how much I love you?”

Their little eyes widened. They nodded. Thomas squealed, bubbling over with happiness just at his mere existence. We all looked at his chunky body vibrating with pure delight, and we started to laugh.

When I stopped laughing through my tears, I said aloud, “Nothing else matters.”

The room grew uncharacteristically quiet. My children nodded. They understood.

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